As he sits right now, Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan is the 10th quarterback taken off the board in mock drafts — on average. While he’s being drafted before Tony Romo and well before Andy Dalton, he still draws a similarity to them in that people aren’t valuing him as high as they should based off of poor memories that taint their reputation.
People usually have great expectations for their fantasy players — that’s natural — and those expectations rarely meet our satisfaction. Ryan fits that bill, as he had three straight seasons as a top 10 fantasy QB and only churned out a 15th ranked season (a first tier bench player). It also doesn’t help that the Falcons are coming off a four-win season after having the best record among NFC teams two seasons ago. But there was a slew of problems that changed the scope of the Falcons’ and Ryan’s season that will not be apparent this season.
One of the reasons behind the team and their gunslinger’s success in 2012 was certainly their wide receiving corps. With Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, they had a fine tuned machine. But like any machine, take out a piece, and the whole system goes astray. That’s what happened last year when Jones went down in Week 5. But through those first five weeks, things were looking just fine for GMs that put their faith in Ryan and crew.
During that stretch, Ryan threw for nearly 1,650 yards as well as a 10:3 TD:INT ratio — 100 fantasy points worth. Of that production, he tossed nearly 600 yards in Jones’ direction on 41 receptions. Had Jones endured the entire season, Ryan would likely have topped 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Jones is geared up and ready to go this year, so expect big things again from this somewhat forgotten duo only two years separated from individual top-10 campaigns.
Of course, I did mention that taking out a piece of the Falcons’ successful passing equation would disrupt its success. This season, Gonzalez is that piece that is missing. But fear not, his value to the system is not as heavily weighted as Jones. They were unable to sign a equally valuable tight end this offseason, and instead, stayed in house with his backup Levine Toilolo.
If you’ve never heard of Toilolo before, there’s good reason. He’s only caught 11 passes for 55 yards. But of those snags, two were touchdowns. Of course, those were situational, but those scores did come in the five-game span that Jones was still playing. That goes to show that Ryan can spread the ball out, even when his favorite targets are in play. I don’t expect Toilolo to completely fill the void Gonzalez has left, but his former backup’s 6-foot-8 frame certainly should help things out a little bit.
Overall, things look like they’re coming into focus once again for Ryan. You can take him somewhere near the seventh round and get great value out of him. But knowing how easy it was for him to go off track once Jones went down, I’d advise that if any injury occurs again this season while Ryan’s hot…trade him right away while someone else still sees value in him. But barring any injury, he’ll be a valuable asset.